E. A. (Edward Austin) Sheldon.

Autobiography of Edward Austin Sheldon online

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restored to health and thus become able to discharge your duties,
your fellow-teachers will feel themselves not only abundantly but
richly rewarded for past labors as well as future toils and respon-
sibilties. Yours respectfully,

Sec'y pro tern.

Message to Mr. Sheldon from Alumni, at Their Meeting in
Oswego, 1880.

Oswego, N. Y., July 7, 1880.
Mr. E. A. Sheldon:

Your graduated boys and girls send warmest greeting, heartily
wishing that your restored health and your early return to the halls
so lonesome without you and to the work that needs your prudent


The magnanimous spirit displayed by the members of the Fac-
ulty reflects upon their own characters in a way that needs no ad-
ditional eulogium.

In the fall of 1880, Mr. Sheldon was so far restored that he was
able to resume his work, with a remittance of part of his duties
to others.

Mr. Sheldon's conviction of the importance of establishing and
maintaining harmonious relations with all his co-workers, is mani-
fested in various passages of this biography. He was peculiarly
sucessful in securing such harmony with those above him in offi-
cial position, as well as with his executive inferiors. It was a re-
markable record that lie made, throughout the successive changes
of administration in the State Superintendency : all the incumbents
falling in line to aid him in his plans, some far more zealously
than others, of course, according to their own natural inclination
and ability. In one case, the Superintendent did not share Mr.
Sheldon's enthusiasm for a certain object, and failed to support
him there ; but this did not mar their harmonious relations in
other regards, and they were always warm friends and mutual
admirers, hearty co-workers for good. This Superintendent on re-
tiring, wrote :


Albany, N. Y., March 30, 1892.
Dr. E. A. Sheldon,

Oswego, N. Y.
My dear Sir :

As I am about to retire from the office of State Superintendent,
I write to express my thanks to you for the cordial and courteous
support which I have at all times received from your hand. It
has been a great satisfaction to me that one so experienced in
school affairs, and of such high standing in the educational world,
should be disposed to support my administration as heartily as
you have. I hope that you may be spared yet many years to con-
tinue the great work which you have so efficiently and successfully
carried on, and I hope also that the severance of official relations
will not terminate our pleasant acquaintance. It shall be my effort
to keep in touch with you in the future.

In the meantime, rest assured of my sincere appreciation of your
thoughtful consideration of me during the last six years, and of
my best wishes for your future.

I am, Very sincerely yours,


The rest of the story of Dr. Sheldon and Dr. Draper will be
saved for a later chapter.



[Extracts from Letters and Editorial.]

REMEMBERING what is in the school, what it has cost, I think
we must love and guard it always.

I wanted to write and say "I thank you," for myself. Because the
work has extended to me and blessed my life I want to tell you
that I am grateful and glad. We love you, dear Mr. Sheldon,
for all that you have done and for all that you are to us, and to
the world. . . .


St. Cloud, Minn.
[From a letter to Dr. Sheldon, May 4, 1889.]

I have never known a person to be narrow-minded after spend-
ing two years in your school, and this I attribute largely to the
influence liberal yet Christian of our honored Principal over
those under his charge. . . .

Hastings-on-Hudson, N. Y.
[From a letter to Dr. Sheldon, June 30, 1881.]

Friday morning I received notice of Dr. Sheldon's death. Though
I realized that he was old and that he was ill time and again last
winter, yet the intelligence came to me as a great shock.

It seems to me that one of Dr. Sheldon's most striking and help-
ful characteristics was his readiness to regard every one with
whom he came in contact as possessed of his own high ideals and
strength of character. This was manifested in the confidence he
placed in the students, and exerted a peculiarly potent influence
upon them. One would be base indeed who would knowingly do
that which would render him unworthy of such confidence. . . .
His own calmness and fortitude in his great sorrow, his cheery
way and his great patience seem to indicate the manner in which
it would be pleasing to him to have us regard his memory.

How well I recall that first morning he was again with us after



Mrs. Sheldon's death. It seemed to me that it would be impossi-
ble for him to resume his work again at his age after having
suffered such a loss. Yet there he stood with the calmness of a
perfect peace upon his face. You remember the first words he
spoke to us, "You are, in a sense, my children and children are
always interested in that which interests the father, and you will
want to know somewhat of my feeling at this time." Then how
lovingly he spoke of Mrs. Sheldon and of all that she had been to
him of her great part in his life and work.

It has come to me that one of the ways which make for the
building up of that which is truest and best in human lives, is this
according to every individual right motives and honesty of pur-
pose, inciting him to be worthy of his treatment. I think very
few students, as far as my own observation went, ever caused
Dr. Sheldon to regret the confidence he placed in them. . . .

Madison, Ohio.

[From a letter to Miss C. L .G. Scales, August 31, 1897.]

Several letters have come to light telling the tale of how Mr.
Sheldon assisted pupils or friends in financial straits. This he had
occasion to do many times, nor was he the only one in the Normal
School faculty, who thus put their confidence in the students or
graduates. So far as I know, Mr. Sheldon never lost anything in
this way with students, although I think he did with others. These
loans sometimes ran a number of years.

I cannot forbear quoting a very touching passage found in a
letter from a friend (not a Normal student) who had suffered
extreme financial distress connected with atrocious unkindness on
the part of his employers :

"I will not write now about the two hundred dollars you sent
me further than to say that it came to me as a precious boon in
time of sorest need that I shall retain some of it, using it only
in distress, for it seems to me different altogether from other money,
not as mere money, but as something invested with character
savoring of humanity. The circumstance will be one of the
sweetest memories, most miserly cherished, of my arduous life."

Mr. Sheldon was himself time and again in financial distress,
and as he himself has frequently said, "all his life a borrower."
But so strong was the confidence of his acquaintances in his in-
tegrity and firmness of purpose, that he never failed to obtain
needed resources, with one exception, on easy terms. In this one
exception he was burdened with paying compound interest for


years. But neither in this nor in other cases did he fail to meet
his agreement, principal and interest.

Nevertheless, his example, in borrowing, while it proved advan-
tageous to some who knew and followed it, may be fairly said
to have proved dangerous to others. Some who followed the same
course to enable them to carry out large life-plans, had not the
firmness of will and the confidence of others, needed to carry them
through to the same happy result. I should not feel justified in
speaking so frankly of this phase of his life, did I not add the
caution here conveyed, which seems to me of the utmost import-

A very interesting passage pertaining to the topic of this
chapter occurs in a letter received by the writer some years ago
from one of our most prominent graduates, one who has made her
activities useful in a large way wherever she has been placed. This
passage indicates the influence of Dr. Sheldon's character outside
of educational circles :

From Mrs. Lena H. Severance.

Buffalo, October 17, 1897.

... I felt that your father could not live alone many years,
but he is yet so much needed it is hard to feel we must give him
up now. I myself knew of work that it seems to me only he could
have done. We have here soon the National Meeting of the W. C.
T. U. In this State as in many others, compulsory educational laws
have been passed in regard to temperance instruction in schools.
Your father thought it the most serious blow the temperance move-
ment had ever had. It was passed entirely through the efforts of
the W. C. T. U. The only person to whom they would have lis-
tened was your father. At the coming meeting, as local manager
for this branch of the work, I had hoped to have a discussion of
the best method of moral teaching, between Mrs. Hunt, the origina-
tor of the law (and the woman who has had it passed in 44 States),
and Mr. Sheldon. These women would have listened to him be-
cause they knew him as an ardent worker in their cause; and once
in a receptive frame of mind, he could have shown them the mis-
chief they may do through ignorance of the way in which the de-
sired result can be reached.


. I wish the earthly remains of both your parents might
have been laid to rest under some of those beautiful trees out at
Shady Shore. They seemed a part of that place and to the end
of my days I shall want to make pilgrimages there. Your father
was such a patient, gentle soul, and yet such a tower of strength !

Buffalo. N. Y., October 17, 1897.




THE events of Dr. Sheldon's life present many proofs that he
had in him some strong elements of the politician perhaps we
should rather say, of the statesman. He had always not merely to
guide his school steadily along the Pestalozzian path, which re-
quired the utmost care in the selection of teachers ; he had also
to keep watch for its financial welfare and for its very existence,
dependent upon political influence for twenty years after its founda-

Reference has already been made to the efforts put forth to
secure its establishment. The struggle for its preservation and for
increased appropriations, to meet its growing needs, went on more
or less for years, until, in 1877, a special effort was apparently made
to cut down the Normal School appropriations to a crippling point,
or to wipe them out entirely.

At this time a committee was appointed by Legislature to make
a tour of the State Normal Schools, to investigate what they were
really doing, and to call upon each teacher engaged in them to
argue, in special Faculty meeting, for the usefulness of his depart-
ment, to a Normal school. This was a memorable occasion to the
writer, who, at a very youthful age, was temporarily teaching
Latin and Greek in the Oswego school, and who had, in fact, no
very firm conviction as to their importance there. It would prob-
ably have pleased Dr. Sheldon quite as well, if she had inveighed
against them. Supposing it to be necessary to "hold the fort," how-
ever, she made her best effort to that end much to the private
amusement of the rest of the Faculty, who had seen her grow up
from babyhood, and who probably also detected some sophistry
in her arguments. However, the public protest that was made,
when, many years after, the Classical Department was dropped at



the instigation of Dr. Sheldon, would prove that there were at
least plausible arguments on the side of retaining it.

The Committee reported favorably for the Normal Schools, and
from that time their career was triumphant.

In a letter to Mrs. Barnes, some time during the last year of
his life, Dr. Sheldon speaks of two very important lines of work
for the State, in which he had engaged :

My hobbies, so far as the educational work of the State
is concerned, have been "unification," and a "graded sys-
tem of teachers' normal and training schools." (This term
training school was first applied to our own school.) At
an early day I called attention to the importance of a system
of elementary training schools as a part of the greater sys-
tem of professional schools, and read a paper before the
Regents' Convocation at Albany. This was in 1888. This
led to the appointing of a committee by the Association
of Academic Principals at a subsequent meeting to con-
sider and report on this subject. I was made chairman of
this committee. This committee discussed plans of organi-
zation, courses of instruction, etc., etc.

To make a long story short, the outcome was the trans-
ferring of teachers' classes in the Academies which were
under the direction of the Board of Regents, to the depart-
ment of public instruction and the organization of the
"Elementary Training Schools" which have been very
much perfected since, and are likely to be very much more
improved. They are the lowest grade in the system of
training schools. The regular Normal Schools are the next
grade, which ought also to be graded, as I have always
contended. To a limited extent this is also being accom-
plished. The Oswego School has broken away, as you
know. Three of the schools have also adopted a course
for the special training of primary and kindergarten teach-
ers, a course that I have long been working for and have
only been able to accomplish during the past year. Fur-


ther grading ought to be made, but I have been stoutly
opposed in this by the other principals, who do not like to
give up anything they already have. The consequence is
that they are all top-heavy, and can do nothing well in the
multitude of things they undertake to do. The next grade
that ought to be established, and which is sure to come, is
the university training school for the training of high
school teachers. I think such a school will be established
at Cornell very soon. It is already being seriously dis-
cussed. The State Superintendent favors it, and they want
it at Cornell. I should not be at all surprised if an act is
passed this winter establishing such a department. .

Probably his efforts in behalf of "Unification" cost Dr. Sheldon
more time and labor, extending through a longer period of years,
than any other cause that he took up, outside of immediate school
work. Of this, he continues, in the above letter, as follows :

My efforts at unification never materialized. It was
in the winter of 1874 that I suggested to the principals of
the Normal Schools of the State that we make an effort to
unite all the educational interests of the State under one
head. At that time there was a very bitter state of feeling
existing between the Board of Regents and the Depart-
ment of Public Intsruction and the schools belonging to
these two departments.

The principals approved of the proposition, and sent Dr.
McVicar and myself to Albany to accomplish this object if
possible. We drafted an act and submitted it to the Legis-
lature . .

I canvassed all parts of the State quite thoroughly, visiting
members of the Board of Regents, leading educational men,
the leading newspapers of the State, and carried a very
strong sentiment with us in favor of the plan. We also
called a conference of the more prominent educational men
of the State at Albany, who also favored the scheme. The
Board of Regents was heart and hand with us, as was also


Mr. Abram B. Weaver, the retiring superintendent. The
bill was killed, nevertheless in the Legislature.

I made another effort at the time of the election of Mr.
Draper, in 1886.* Again, in 1894, before the constitutional
convention for the amendment of the constitution of the
State, I tried to get the plan inaugurated in the constitu-
tion, but I was left rather single-handed, and my efforts
failed for want of proper support.

In the meantime the Regents have been entrenching them-
selves more and more strongly, and it is doubtful whether
"unification" will ever be realized.

Great good, however, has grown out of the movement.
It has tended to bring together and regulate the educational
work of the State, and effect a good state of feeling between
the educational men belonging to the two departments. In
this way a great gain has been made, and so I feel that my
work has not been altogether vain.

Pres. A. D. White to E. A. S.

The Cornell University,
Ithaca, N. Y., Aug. 7, 1876.
Prof. E. A. Sheldon,

Principal State Normal School.
My Dear Sir:

Returning to Ithaca I find your kind letter. Your deliberate
approval of our system of instruction, evidenced as it is by your
decision to send those in whom you take the deepest interest, is, I
assure you, no small gratification to me. Such testimonies, after the
struggle we have had to make, are calculated to give courage for any
future struggle.

I acquiesce without reserve in your idea as to the desirability
of making a diploma of graduation from the State Normal Schools
a sufficient evidence of good study to enable the bearer to enter
here without further examination in the branches taught in such
schools. At the next meeting of our faculty I will bring the matter
up, and, as I hope, be able to carry it through.

To bring this University into a close, vital connection with the
whole system of public education in our State has always been one
of the leading aims of my ambition ; and I see in your proposal an
important means in its accomplishment.

'Significant extracts from an address delivered by Dr. Sheldon on
"Unification," at this time will be found in the Appendix.


You spoke of one or two other thoughts which you had intended
to present. I shall be truly glad to receive them whenever con-
venient to you to put them on paper. . . .

Very respectfully and truly yours,


Prin. H. B. Buckham to E. A. S.

Buffalo, N. Y., March n, 1877.
Dear Sir :

I am not content to let our school matters rest as they are, with
the certainty of a renewed and more hopeful attack next year. I
think we ought to go to the root of the matter at once. Will you
join the other principals in a petition for the appointment of a Com-
mission to inquire carefully into, and report to the next Legislature
upon these points?

1. The putting of all common schools and their officers under
one management.

2. The requiring of a minimum of Normal Training for all
teachers of common schools.

3. Some means of putting Normal Schools into more direct
contact with common schools.

4. Course of study in Normal Schools, and the connection of
Academic departments therewith.

5. Teachers' classes and Teachers' Institutes and how to make
them work in harmony with Normal Schools.

If you will do this, give me your notion of the Commission. I
should say the Superintendent, a Regent, a Commissioner, a Normal
School man, and a College man.



Dr. Sheldon died without seeing the accomplishment of the
object for which he had worked so long; and, in fact, as his words
prove, having abandoned the hope that it ever would be achieved.
But the life energies that had been expended in its behalf had not
been dissipated. In the full course of time they developed the long-
desired fruit.


By Mary Sheldon Barnes.

SOME circumstances of Dr. Sheldon's life escaped mention, or
were treated too briefly in the autobiography, owing to the frag-
mentary, hasty way in which it was necessarily written, and prob-
ably somewhat to the doubt of the author about its ever being pub-
lished. The missing material cannot be presented in a better way
than has already been done by his daughter, Mary Sheldon Barnes,
in two articles : one written for the Quarter-Centennial book of the
Oswego Training School, published in 1887, and the other for "The
School Journal," New York, immediately after Dr. Sheldon's de-
cease, 1897.

In the following extracts, the contents of the two articles are
combined, in such a way as to sustain the connection. They are
given, not always as presenting new matter, but in some instances
because they throw main points into a strong light, and so form a
striking review. Editor.

My father's life falls naturally into three periods: that
of his youth and early manhood a preparatory period ; that
of organizing the public school system in Oswego, and the
training school for teachers that grew out of that system
a period of rapid and strenuous development ; and, finally, a
period during which his ideas and methods diffused them-
selves over a wide area a period of naturally growing pros-
perity and success.

His work and his life all center about the beloved school
whose destinies he moulded from 1861 to the day of his
death. The Oswego school during all that time stood as an
experiment station in Pestalozzian method, and as a group
of vigorous and original personalities, all working with won-



derful devotion to their leader, whose loving heart and pro-
gressive will was felt through every day in every act.

While yet a teacher of his beloved "ragged school," my
father had married Miss Frances Stiles, and to this union
he always accredited and to my mind, truly a large part
of his success. My mother was not only beautiful and ac-
complished in all social graces, but she had great fortitude
of character, wide and warm intellectual interests, and an
unusual education for a woman of her generation. She had
need of all those gifts; for she was not only to be the
mother of five children, but the helpmeet of her husband
through years of poverty, of hard, and often excessive,
labor, of all the opposition and friction which his original
and determined character was to bring upon them. But her
soul was pre-eminent in cheerfulness, in courage, in faith
and love, and my father always found in his home happi-
ness, brightness and complete understanding and faith
secret sources of unflinching energy and strength.

In the temperorary defeat of the free school party, my
father tried to start a private school, but before it was
fairly begun he obtained the appointment of superintendent
of public schools in Syracuse. During the two or three
years in which he held this office, he consolidated, graded,
and organized the lower schools, brought together various
ill-kept collections of books into a central library, to-day
one of the most flourishing and valuable possessions of
Syracuse, and gave the impulse and the plan which resulted
in the foundation of one of the finest high schools in our
State. His report was the first annual school report of

The free-school party, of Oswego, meanwhile, being "in
harmony with the constitution of things," had come to the
day of their success, and called my father back to organize
and shape their new system. In May, 1853, he became the
first superintendent of schools in Oswego, and in Septem-
ber the schools were ready to start.


The schools were organized ; his active mind began to re-
flect on their curriculum and method ; and to his fresh
and practical insight, they seemed not to meet the actual
needs of human nature. He felt that they were a long way
off from the real world of matter and force; that children
were naturally and righteously interested in the objective
world, in their own bodies, in their vital relations to things
and each other. In this mood he visited Toronto, and then
saw not in the schools, but in a museum a collection of
teaching appliances from the Home and Colonial School, in
London, that seemed to suit his sense of fitness. Well do
I remember the delight with which he returned from his
visit, importing samples of what he wanted.

The dark shelves of the little closets opening off from
the dingy office where my father worked all day were filled
with wonders delightful to my childish eyes, and to his
own as well. We used to talk them over colored balls and
cards, bright-colored pictures of animals, building blocks,
silk- worm cocoons, cotton-balls, specimens of pottery and

In the annual report for that same year, ending March
31, 1860, appeared an epoch-making programme, laid out
along distinctly Pestalozzian lines. This programme con-
tained conversational exercises, moral instruction, physical

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Online LibraryE. A. (Edward Austin) SheldonAutobiography of Edward Austin Sheldon → online text (page 15 of 18)